Sunday, April 9, 2017

Bug Play Dough Kit


Hello, Spring!  We're so glad you're finally here.  It's the perfect season to put together a little bug play dough kit, don't you think?


I took the easy route this time around and used pre-made Play Doh.  We had several colors still sitting in our basement, so might as well get some use out of them!  We chose brown, black and green, but any earthier colors would work well, I think.

We had our bugs and river rocks on hand from other projects.  If I remember correctly, the bugs came in a cheap party favor pack we bought at Wal-Mart for preschool.  There are usually plenty of rock options available in Wal-Mart's greenery/fake flower section too, but many of them are really small and choking hazards!  Choose wisely, here, folks, and wait for the bigger ones!

I purchased a cheap little bag of Sushi grass on Amazon, thinking the kids could make bug habitats with it.  I will say, though, the grass isn't crazy durable and some gets bent up.  For that reason, I only put a small portion of the grass in the kit and saved the rest to use as replacements!


Add a dollar store magnifying glass and some sticks from your yard (we used little pieces of driftwood I found on the beach last summer), and you've got yourself a play doh bug kit, friends.


We spent a short weekend with Mark's family, and I brought this along for some of the cousins to play with - thinking it would only occupy the littler ones.  I was totally surprised to see ALL of the kids - up to 11 years old - having so much fun with it!  Our neighbor kids come over (who are even older) and play with our play dough often too.  All this to say, no one is ever too old to play play dough, folks.


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Monday, April 3, 2017

Thrifting + A ThredUp Review


Alright, gals.  If you haven't tried ThredUp before, you really, really should.  (And no, I'm not getting paid to say this!)

ThredUp is a thrifty girls dream.  Instead of finding a babysitter, driving to your favorite thrift and consignment shops, and spending hours perusing racks and racks of clothing, you can jump on the handy Interweb and go to www.thredup.com.  #winning


ThredUp is a great way to buy and sell clothes online.  What I love most is that they have a big vision - to transform the way people think about buying secondhand, to help make more expensive brands accessible (most pieces are 75-90% off), and to help people shop consciously.  Yay, for more ethical fashion!


A few extra things I love...

The packaging + presentation is amazing.
You know me - I am all about presentation, and ThredUp does not disappoint.  It's kind of fun to buy thrifted, cheap things and receive them in fancy packaging.  Everything is folded neatly, wrapped in tissue paper, with a cute "enjoy" sticker.  Each tag says, "Renewed with Love in San Francisco."  Invoices are folded into a special holder at the very top of the box.  They even include a little booklet that shares more of their vision through some inspiring quotes and pictures.  This is the definition of "happy mail," people.


Free returns!
Just recently, ThredUp added a free return feature to their business.  If you don't like what you bought, you can return it using a prepaid shipping label.  From there, you can return it for credit at NO charge or return it and pay the shipping/restock fee, which I think was around $7 or $8.


New with tags and like-new clothing
Everything I've ever ordered from ThredUp has been in mint condition.  Several pieces still had tags on them.  And that weird smell that some thrift stores have?  Like mildew and basements?  Yeah, these clothes don't have that at all, praise the Lord.


Time saver
When I go old-school thrifting, I always feel like I need to allow hours and hours to really dig through everything.  The treasures are usually never at the front of the rack or in your regular size, and it takes time to try on the different sizes and look for the brands you really like.  Instead, with ThredUp, you can let a search engine do the heavy lifting.  Boom, baby.


A few things I'm unsure of...

Kids Clothing?
I have not found great deals for kids' clothes.  Maybe it's just me, but I'm way less willing to spend money on kids' clothes when I know they will be outgrown or ruined in a month.  I have been able to find cheaper clothing at our local garage sales, consignment shops and Old Navy clearance.



Selling online?
I have not tried SELLING with ThredUp and, again, use my local outlets and stores for that.  I think it'd be worth a try though!


A few tips...

Stay in your lane - shop the brands you already love.
There's no way I can afford to shop at Madewell and Gap regularly, but I know my sizes in those brands, and love the styles they offer.  When I buy second hand in these brands, I am usually really happy with my purchases!  However, I've tried some random brands I didn't know at ThredUp and found the sizing and fit wasn't what I expected.  Since shopping online doesn't allow you to try on different sizes and fits, I think it's best to stick with what you know if you want to be really sure you'll love what you buy.

Take advantage of referral codes, deals and new customer discounts.
If you want to save $10, you can use my referral link.  And, if you end up liking ThredUp, you can use your own referral link to continue to add money to your account.  I check the website often for deals, and have scored some 50% off promotions, $50 off my order, etc.  It's worth perusing and looking for!



See what you think!  I'd love to hear your thoughts, if you try it!


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Monday, March 27, 2017

Bake Shop Center


Our Bake Shop was so fun this winter!  I am just now putting it away and changing things around for Spring.  We put together a hodge podge of things we had laying around in the kitchen and some play food sets we've used for other things.

Please excuse yet another post filled with photos with horrible lighting.  Our basement toy room is great, but the lighting could definitely use some work!


I was PUMPED to find this Hape Mixer on our Swap page for $5.  I had been eyeing it on Amazon for a while, but didn't have the heart to pay full price.  It was the full set - complete with the bowl and pretend bags of brown sugar and flour.  Be still, my play-center-loving-heart... 


I'm becoming more and more impressed by the Learning Resources brand - dare I say even more than Hape or Melissa and Doug?!  This the Learning Resources Just Dessert cake stand that Charlotte got as a gift last Christmas.  I love that each Learning Resources set is made with thick and crazy durable plastic, meaning my kids can bash it, throw it and play with it in water.  (We do tea parties with real water and throw our play food in the bath tub to make "soup.)  They're also easily washed, as opposed to some of the other adorable, but mainly wooden toy brands.



I've left a chalk board in the main play center area, which makes it fun to create a little backdrop for each theme.  




I've been known to dig empty food canisters and jars and potato sacks out of the garbage for extra props.  I can never throw an Archer Farms jar - isn't this pretend cinnamon shaker cute?  Smaller jelly Bell jars make cute Bake Shop extras, too.


Wal-Mart always has a dollar section of tiny spatulas and kitchen tools that came in handy.  I had several of these muffin tins and half cookie sheets left over from another project.



Learning Resources has the cutest Cookie Jar counter I bought a few months ago for a preschool lesson.  Each cookie has a certain number of chocolate chips with the corresponding number printed on the bottom of the cookie.  It's a fun learning activity and adorable prop for centers.


We used a couple of pieces from Melissa + Doug's tea set, a Christmas gift from a few years ago, but really, this bake shop would be great with a variety of things that are probably already sitting in your kitchen and toy room.  As always, shop your house, dig in your garbage (wink, wink), and see what you come up with!  

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Friday, February 24, 2017

Snow Sensory Kit


Iowa is so weird, you guys.  The kids and I were outside ALL day one day - in flip flops - and the next day, it's an all-out blizzard.  At the very least, we know spring is coming sooner or later, so this was one of our last chances to play with our snow sensory kit.

The kids have been extra stir crazy today, but this activity bought me almost a full hour.  The mess was pretty substantial, but only took about five minutes to clean up.  For me, it's totally worth it.


We have been loving the Safari LTD Toobs, which come with an assortment of animals and creatures based on a particular theme.  We have had the Arctic Toob since last season, so I put it to good use in this snow for a change of scenery.

We added some glass gems for pretend water + ice, but keep in mind these usually come fairly small - like, the perfect size to choke on.  I found larger gems (they are two or three inches around) that aren't so tempting for little ones to put in their mouths, and if they do, they are not so easily ingestible.  


The snow is a mixture of cornstarch + canola oil - a recipe I found on Pinterest.  From there, I added some leftover silver glitter just for fun.  The mixture is messy, but it it's the perfect consistency to pack into snowmen and mountains and snowballs!


I doubled the snow recipe and made another container for Charlotte, but instead of the Arctic animals, I put some of her Frozen figurines inside.  She LOVED it.  


We are choosing to enjoy the last little bits of snow + winter we have this season.  I know when summer hits, I'll dream of being cooped up + cozy with my kiddos.  

Happy snow day, friends!


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Monday, January 30, 2017

The War on Panic + Anxiety: Let Them Come


Catch up here and here!

It's interesting to me - how the panic + anxiety seem to be cyclical.  Are your experiences similar?

Though I had struggled with generalized anxiety before, I can remember the first panic attack I had, right after my daughter Charlotte was born.  It was so awful, I remember being fearful of when the next attack might come.  Tonight?  Tomorrow?  Two days from now?

The more time that passed withOUT panic, the more fearful I became...

"It's been two whole days since my last one.  Surely the next attack is just around the corner!  Maybe I should cancel my plans or stay home tonight?  Should I commit to that other thing?  I might have to back out last minute!"

Eventually, the fear of the panic, and the stress from daily life would build and compound and, surprise, surprise, I'd be down with another attack...  Which just meant more fear, more stress and more anxiety.

This cycle turned into a downward spiral.  Instead of having one or two panic attacks a month, at my worst, I was having at least one attack every day.  When each one came, they were more and more intense.  The panic was rough, but the feeling of defeat and condemnation made it even worse.

It was totally debilitating.  Many times, I couldn't even process how I would get out of bed and make my kids breakfast toast.   TOAST, of all things...

After several meetings with my shrink, it became apparent I needed to figure out how to stop the cycle.  I may not be able to stop the panic attacks themselves, but I could do my best to stop the compounding, snowballing effect of fear and worry.

I stumbled upon Psalm 46 in my devotions...

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling...  God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved.

Though.

Even though...

Those two tiny words became a turning point for me.

Even though my earth was giving way...  Even though every strong place in my mind and mountain in my life was falling into the sea...  Even though the panic was roaring and foaming and threatening to overwhelm me, I didn't need to fear.  I didn't need to be moved.

Don't get me wrong.  The worry and stress didn't leave right away...  Instead, in meditating on these words, I started to slowly develop more of a "So what?!" attitude towards the panic.

Panic attacks have come and gone.  But, big flipping deal.  So what?!  I've weathered each one.  I was still alive.  Sure, I was limping, but my kids were still being cared for, my husband hadn't left me, my friends still loved me.

If I could weather this much anxiety, maybe it wasn't such a big deal if another attack came.  Even though I felt anxious, I would still choose to get up, get out of bed, dig the bread out of the cupboard, muster up the energy to put it in the darn toaster, and make my kids the friggin' breakfast toast.

To me, that meant victory.  I didn't let a panic attack keep me in bed.  I got up and made toast.  Even though!

Shove it, Satan.

Though this may seem like a small victory, I've learned that small victories and instances of bravery can compound and spiral upward just as much as fear and worry can spiral downward.

Over time, confidence builds and courage increases.  Over time, the fear decreased.

Sure, panic attacks have still come, but they are markedly fewer and farther between.  And, my good days aren't as weighed down by fear and worry over "the next one" coming.

Just a few days ago, I was processing this with the Lord, and I felt like I heard the words "Let them come," in my mind.  They were so very clear - almost as if someone had spoken audibly to me.

"Let them come?" I asked the Lord.  I didn't really know if that was a snippet of scripture I had forgotten or some quote he was hoping I'd remember.  Anyway, I did what every smart person does when they hear from the Lord and Googled it.  ;)

The quote was from Lord of the Rings - movies I love, but hadn't seen in years.  For those of you who love LOTR, please just rewatch The Two Towers, and especially the Battle of Helms Deep - you won't be sorry!  For those of you who are not epic movie fans, let me explain just a bit...

Really horrible enemies (monsters, really) are coming against a small kingdom of humans.  The main character, Strider, is sent out to spy on the enemy to see how many are coming and what they might be up against.  He returns from his mission with horrible news for the king...


Let them come.

A vast army is coming to destroy the race of men - they are outnumbered by thousands and thousands - yet instead of cowering in the corner, the King takes on a posture of bravery in saying, "Let them come."

The following scene details King Theoden's commands and plans for battle.

"I want every man and strong lad able to bear arms, to be ready for battle by nightfall."

Instead of spending our days crying in a dark corner, we can choose bravery.  Instead of wasting our time worrying, we can use it productively and offensively - planning our battle, preparing for war, strapping on our armor.

His friends shout their worries - fearing the king isn't aware of what he's up against.

"I have fought many wars - I know how to defend my own keep," he responds.

We, too, who have struggled with panic and anxiety, have fought many wars.  We know how to get through another day.  We know how to fight.  We may limp a little, but we certainly know how to survive.

"They will break upon this fortress like water on rock.  Saruman's hordes will pillage and burn - we've seen it before.  Crops can be resown!  Homes rebuilt!  Within these walls, we will outlast them!"

Hordes of demons and waves of panic may be marching towards us even now, ready to destroy us.  And yet...  Even though they may do their best to pillage and burn us to the ground, by the Lord's power, we will rebuild.  We will resow.

We will outlast.

Let them come.
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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Hot Chocolate Sensory Play!


Late January + February always seem to be the dreariest months in Iowa, so we're cozying up and making the best of it.  I tend to be a home body anyway - no complaints here!  The kids do tend to get stir crazy, though, so this little sensory kit comes in extra handy on the longer days.


I went to the Mexican food section of Wal-Mart and bought a bigger bag of the brownest looking beans.  I wish they were a smudge darker yet, but life goes on I suppose!  Add a few white pom-poms for marshmallows, half of our Melissa + Doug tea set, a few toy cookies, and you've got yourself a sensory, kit people.  

Easy-peasy.


I've seen other mamas use brown rice instead, and have also seen additions of chocolate tea bags and/or chocolate extract to make it actually smell like chocolate too.  While this would be delightful, it's best for us when things do not smell edible.  My little ones are still a little tempted to put things in their mouths.


If you've never done a sensory kit before, this is a great one to start with.  You can't mess this one up, folks!  

Have so much fun.  Cheers!




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Monday, January 16, 2017

The War on Panic + Anxiety: My Perspective


The more I have shared openly about struggling with panic + anxiety, the more people have commented, written letters, and shared with me that they, too, are fighting the same fight.   First off, I'm honored that so many of you have shared your stories with me.  Thank you!  Secondly, I'm thinking of continuing to chat on this topic in hopes that...

1) ...more and more of you would know you're not alone.

2) ...in ripping this thing open, and shining some light on the situation, we'll beat the enemy at his own game.

3) ...we can share some ideas and strategies with each other and learn from each others' struggles.  I'm guessing we're better off fighting together!

I almost titled this post "The Battle Against Panic + Anxiety," but quickly remembered how crazy LONG the struggle has seemed - two steps forward, one step backward, good days, hard days, and horrible days when I've felt completely defeated.  Instead, I think it's probably better to look at this whole ordeal as a drawn-out war - filled with many battles, some won, some lost...  But, all the while knowing the overall sure + sound victory is coming, despite some ground lost here and there.

And, speaking of victory...  I am not a victim.  Don't get me wrong - there are plenty of days I feel like a victim to panic.  Many times I feel like the suffering will never leave and that it will be my lot in life.  I feel like I will eventually be utterly defeated and lose my mind to anxiety - until I will no longer be able to care for my family or do ministry or feel joy ever again.

But those are ridiculous and horrible lies from the pit of hell.  The sooner and quicker I can reject them as such, the quicker I can stand my ground - the ground the Lord has given to me.

I am not a victim.  God is for me.  Trouble and hardship and persecution will not separate me from His love.  Though I face fear and death all day long, I am more than a conqueror through Him who loves me.

In all of this, I have been reminded and encouraged to let my language reflect this.  Once, in venting a bit, a friend caught me saying, "My anxiety is making it tough..."

My anxiety?  As if I am content in owning the panic?  Embracing it and calling it mine?  Identifying myself with it?  Affirming that it is an integral part of who I am as a person?  Table for two?!

No thank you.

Sure, I struggle with panic, but I will war against it, taking the offensive and believing in ultimate victory and freedom.

Before I end this post, I want to reiterate that I am not writing as someone who has this all figured out.  I know panic and anxiety can take on many forms, have roots in many different things, and can be a completely different and unique experience for every individual.  I'm not sure if what I'm saying will resonate in any way with your personal struggle, but again - just know you're not alone in the war against...  If nothing else, I hope you'll find more courage and space to be vulnerable in sharing your journey - and story - with the world.

And, about courage...  In my life, courage doesn't mean I don't cry and fall down and fail and get really dirty and messy.  Courage isn't super glamourous.  Even if I lose some ground and feel defeated today, it just means I'm committing to try again tomorrow.  I'll try again to choose truth in the next five minutes, and I'll try to stand back up and wield my sword once more.

I know the battle is absolutely exhausting, friends, but it's still worth fighting.  Take courage!
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